Although news broke earlier this week that Apple was planning a surprise event on March 25, most of the information suggested that it was going to be centered around the launch of the paid subscription news service that Apple has been working to put together for a while. Now, however, it looks like there may not only be more to the event, but that Apple’s premium news service won’t even be the marquee announcement.
According to Bloomberg, Apple also plans to also unveil its highly anticipated video streaming service at the event, which seems like it will certainly make a bigger splash than its subscription news service. In fact, according to the report Apple has invited several major Hollywood stars to attend, including Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Garner, and director J.J. Abrams.
Not surprisingly, the Hollywood personalities that have been invited are those that have been working on major original content projects with Apple, so they also have a stake in the game. Aniston and Witherspoon were in fact two of the first big names to come on board with Apple in late 2017 when the company signed a deal for a morning show drama. Jennifer Garner also came on board more recently, with reports that Apple signed a deal for her to star in another drama that will be executive produced by J.J. Abrams.
Although Apple seems well poised to begin delivering its own original content, however, it would seem that its efforts to bundle other streaming services like HBO are gaining less traction. CNBC revealed yesterday that Apple has not yet shored up its content deals with all of the major players, specifically naming Netflix, Hulu, and possibly HBO as three that may not be participating — at least not for the initial launch.
The exclusion of Netflix is not the least bit surprising. After all, it’s been the only major holdout from Apple’s TV app from the very beginning; even after Apple was able to mend fences with Amazon to get Prime on board, the company has not succeeded in welcoming Netflix into the fold. Presumably, the video streaming behemoth doesn’t feel it needs Apple’s help to get onto users’ Apple TV and iOS devices, although that could certainly change as Apple wraps more and more content into its own TV app — which can already replace the home screen on an Apple TV — leaving Netflix as an outlier. On the other hand, while Hulu does participate in Apple’s TV app, neither Netflix or Hulu are part of Amazon’s competing Prime Video Channels service, either, suggesting both companies prefer to go it alone.
The situation with HBO appears to be a little more complicated, however. Sources note that discussions are still ongoing, but that they’re lagging behind Apple’s deals with other premium network providers such as Starz, CBC, Showtime, and Viacom — all of which are expected to be with Apple for the debut of its new streaming service.
With talks ongoing and several weeks to go, HBO may still be on board for the launch, but the exact nature of what’s holding up talks isn’t clear; sources note that Apple hasn’t offered HBO the same terms that Amazon did, which may be one of the sticking points. Multiple people familiar with the terms have revealed that Apple is pushing for a 30 percent cut for every customer that subscribes through its streaming service — twice the amount that the company is currently taking from subscriptions made directly in the App Store streaming apps.
It’s unclear what value Apple is offering to justify the increased take, although one angle is likely the increased exposure through the TV app. Apple also likely hopes to convince the premium networks that it can attract new customers who would prefer a unified subscription package over subscribing to individual services, in much the same way that Apple is trying to justify the 50 percent take for subscriptions to its news service.
As previously reported, Apple also still plans to give Apple device owners access to its own original content at no additional charge, although it’s a bit less clear how that will fit in with the introduction of new AirPlay 2 and iTunes-compatible TVs. Very little information has surfaced yet on how Apple plans to price its subscription offerings, however, or whether multiple tiers will be available. Further, while Apple clearly plans to unveil the service on March 25, it’s not certain when it will actually be available to customers, with Bloomerg suggesting the paid service will not launch until this summer.